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 Article of Interest - Parental Involvement

PARENT SCHOOL PARTNERSHIP: Group seeks expansion of program
Effort teaches Hispanics about school system
by Juliet V. Casey, Las Vegas Review-Journal, September 25, 2002
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Rosa Vargas wasn't sure what to do when her 14-year-old daughter last year complained of being picked on by a classmate.

"I would tell her to ignore the boy, be quiet and not to make trouble," said Vargas, a native of El Salvador. "I thought, maybe I should talk to the boy's mother. Then I thought that might make things worse."

But after meeting with other Hispanic parents as part of the new Parent School Partnership Program, Vargas learned where to go for help.

"I realized when there's a problem in the school you can go directly to the person who has the authority to resolve it," she said. Vargas said she spoke to a school counselor in charge of discipline and soon afterward, her daughter seemed happier and didn't mention any more problems with the bully.

Vargas said she and about 15 other parents took 16 classes at Martin Middle School on how public education works. She said they learned so much, they want the program to continue and grow.

Officials from the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, which sponsors the program, say they plan to expand the effort with help from parents like Vargas. MALDEF is a national nonprofit Hispanic organization focused on civil rights litigation, advocacy and educational outreach.

"Children are much more secure and willing to take on the challenges of education if their parents are there to advocate for them," said Frank Molina, national Parent School Partnership trainer. "But if we don't help the parents, who's going to help the children?"

Molina was in Las Vegas last week exploring ways to get more people interested in the effort.

"As parents go through the program they begin to understand how important their role is in their child's education," said Alex Garza, who taught the course at Martin. "They go to parent-teacher conferences. They ask questions and they understand their rights better."

Molina said MALDEF, which has established the program in several states, uses Census data to determine where the fastest-growing Hispanics communities are and where the program is most needed. Nevada, where the Hispanic population nearly tripled in between 1990 and 2000, was an obvious place to take the program, he said.

Hispanic students are the fastest-growing minority group in Clark County schools, and are among those who struggle the most. More than one-third of the students who drop out of Clark County high schools are Hispanic. In the 2000-01 school year, an estimated 25 percent of the district's high school students were Hispanic.

Clark County School District officials said MALDEF's program has shown it will help parents and children. They said a large body of research shows a strong correlation between parent involvement and student success.

Clara Miranda, a district specialist in multicultural education, said the program will help invalidate any perception that Hispanic parents don't care about their children's education.

"Many parents want to be part of the system, they just don't have access," she said. "This is another door we can open for them."

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